When I first started in police work we were issued a small can of mace, with the idea that we could use it to defend ourselves from a violent attacker. Mace was the only easily portable chemical agent in use with law enforcement and its effectiveness was severely limited. People rarely used it as intended. Rather cops, being cops, used it for pranks such as making one’s sleeping area uninhabitable or one’s patrol car in desperate need of airing out. The problem with mace was that the effect was delayed by an appreciable time. Yes, a dose caused discomfort and could take the fight out of some people, but it took too long to work, causing the cop to fight with the suspect. The result was the cop getting mace all over himself as well.
Enter what we now call pepper spray. Pepper spray is actually oleoresin capsicum, it is sometimes called OC spray. It is made with an oil derived from natural pepper sources that is very effective at inducing a variety of fight stopping effects. A good friend of mine was one of the first in our agency to get trained on using OC spray. He told me that when he was first sprayed with it, he thought the instructors made a tragic mistake and used some lethal chemical agent. This cop was no weakling. He was an avid martial artist and former college football player. I have been sprayed on numerous occasions with OC spray and I can tell you, it works.
The effects of OC spray include painful stinging of the eyes, usually forcing the person to keep them closed. The stinging also impacts the breathing passages, making it difficult to take full, deep breaths. Those who are not accustomed to the physical impact of pepper spray, the psychological impact can be significant. Fear and a decreased interest in fighting are very common. Because pepper spray primarily relies on a biological impact for its effectiveness, it works very well on dogs. It is also the primary weapon for non-lethal bear defense. If it works on a black bear, you can be confident it will work on a human attacker. I have used it for aggressive dogs on many occasions and found it works as intended. I have also used pepper spray on a great number of combative people and have never been disappointed in how effective it was.
I frequently get requests from women who are looking for a tool for self-defense. My number one recommendation is pepper spray. A firearm is the ultimate self-defense tool but the training and responsibility associated with carrying it, is beyond the time many people want to invest. Furthermore, not every situation requires lethal force. Having a non-lethal option is just good planning. Tasers and other electroshock weapons are very effective but they are generally a single use and a new cartridge needs to be affixed. For a crowd or multiple assailants, it can be cumbersome. The effects of a Taser lasts only as long as the trigger is pulled. Pepper spray can last for 30 minutes or more. Plenty of time to escape.
A typical can of pepper spray, such as the SecPro Advanced Police Strength Pepper Spray will have multiple sprays and a reach of nearly 20 feet. You don’t have to be terribly precise in spraying it. Just putting it in the air on and near the assailant might be sufficient for a dose. This particular product is police strength and has the added benefit of using a small LED light to aid in night time use. This is the time when a woman might most likely encounter a situation that OC spray could save her life. Think dark alley, poorly lit hallway, or parking lot.
The other nice thing about pepper spray is that it’s easily carried in a jacket pocket or purse. I keep a can in my vehicle for both camping and urban use. A typical can, such as the SecPro Advanced Police Strength Pepper Spray will have a shelf life of 5 years, which means you can expect it to have the same effectiveness in year five that it had when you bought it. Make sure to always check the manufacture date when purchasing pepper spray. They are reasonably inexpensive and when you consider the peace of mind it brings, that’s good insurance.
How might one employ their OC spray? It begins with being aware of your surroundings. If you need pepper spray, you don’t want to rummage through your pockets or purse looking for it. It is best to have it in hand. The cans are small enough that they can be somewhat concealed in the hand and are unobtrusive. Now, keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you walk around with your OC spray in hand, 24/7. What I counsel is simple situational awareness and listening to that “inner voice”. If you hop into an Uber for example and the driver causes the hair on your neck to stand up, discreetly find your pepper spray and keep it handy. Once you are safely at your destination, you can return it to your pocket and the driver will be none the wiser. On the other hand, if the driver takes a strange turn, pulls over and makes motions as if to accost you, you can spray them and flee. Likewise, you are leaving a movie and walking to your car in a parking lot, you can have the pepper spray handy for rapid deployment. Unless you need it, no one will know but you. That’s peace of mind. For the price of a can of pepper spray, it’s hard to beat.
About the writer
Military and Law Enforcement Veteran
FBI certified firearm instructor
MP5 and Sub Machine gun instructor
Defensive tactics instructor
Police Academy instructor